Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, on the question of whether a member of the Montezuma-Cortez District Re-1 school board, Lance Mc- Daniel, should remain on the board.
A group led by local residents Deborah McHenry and Malynda (Mindy) Nelsen circulated a petition calling for the recall, and gathered enough valid signatures.
However, four protests were filed against the petition, necessitating a hearing that took place Nov. 19. The protests were ultimately rejected and McDaniel decided not to appeal that decision to district court, which means the election will go forward.
Note: McDaniel is a Facebook friend of the author but has no other ties to the Four Corners Free Press and is not a subscriber. The Free Press took an editorial stance opposing the recall in its November issue.
Naming a park
The recall effort is in some ways emblematic of the divisions that have ripped apart the local community, and of course the nation. Even before this summer, when peace-and- justice demonstrators, then patriots/ Trump supporters, began appearing every Saturday on Cortez’s Main Street in a clash of viewpoints, McDaniel had been the subject of controversy.
McDaniel is not accused of any wrongdoing directly related to the school board, but as a vocal liberal, he has been a thorn in the side of some conservatives.
They were incensed by his support, as a member of the Cortez Planning and Zoning Commission, for a new land-use code that had been drafted for the city. Criticized as being too stringent, the code was ultimately rejected by the council on Jan. 28 after a vocal outpouring of opposition expressed by both city residents and people who lived outside the city.
McDaniel’s opponents were also critical of a remark he made on Facebook related to the naming of a park in Cortez.
McDaniel was appointed to a vacant seat on the Re-1 board in September 2018. Board members are not paid for their service. He ran unopposed and was elected to the same position in the fall of 2019.
Mike Green, Cortez’s city attorney, was employed by the Montezuma County clerk’s office to be the hearing officer for the protest hearing, which took place Nov. 19.
He began by reading aloud the state statute most pertinent to the issues in question, CRS 1-12-103. After explaining that a recall is initiated through a petition, the statute states:
“The petition shall contain a general statement, consisting of two hundred words or less, stating the ground or grounds on which the recall is sought. The general statement may not include any profane or false statements. . . . The ground or grounds are not open to review.”
Green said a recall is not an impeachment, meaning it is not held to the same standard of evidence. He said case law indicates that people protesting against a recall should “have something more than that they disagree with or believe the statements in the recall petition are fictitious or not true.” He said the protests need “to go more to the manner in which the signatures were taken or what they look like.”
Nevertheless, much of the hearing on the protests focused on whether the basis for the recall was valid and whether the statements in the petition were true.
About 50 people either attended the hearing in person or watched it online. None of the four people who filed protests attended in person, but three spoke via Zoom. They praised McDaniel’s service as a school-board member and said the petition contained false statements.
Mary Dodd said she’d watched some of the school-board meetings over the past year and McDaniel had demonstrated all the qualities of leadership required. She said he “supported the mission and vision of the school,” and was a good team member.
One of the few times he voted against the board’s majority, she said, was on a question about changing the pay schedule for teachers, “which was more convenient for the pay department but would cause hardship for teachers,” Dodd said.
Dana Jensen, who also filed a protest, said the main grievance in the petition is that “many of the schoolchildren in our community follow Lance McDaniel on social media…”
She said, “It appears that few if any of his followers are of school age, so the main justification is based on falsehoods, which makes the entire petition invalid.”
She wanted to present screen shots of social- media statements circulated in the community that would show that the language used in the petition “is not the language that has been spread throughout the community to gain support and signatures for the petition.”
But Green responded that the only issue was what was in the actual petition, “not necessarily what people say or are putting up on Facebook.”
“They are basing their petition on things he has posted on social media, so I think it’s fair to use in our defense,” Jensen replied. “What they have been saying in the community is much different than what is contained in the petition for recall.”
‘Rape all your daughters’
Another person who filed a protest, Cayce Hamerschlag, said she has attended many school-board meetings and McDaniel “carries himself professionally” and is “very thoughtful and thorough.”
She brought up an incident that happened during the board’s Oct. 20 meeting. Most members were there in person, but McDaniel and Jack Schuenemeyer were present via Zoom. The board was having a discussion when unidentified voices broke in.
A man and a woman made remarks about McDaniel and his beard.
Then a man said, “Lance, if you mute me one more time, I’m going to rape all your daughters.” (McDaniel actually has just one daughter and had no control over the meeting’s mute button.)
Law enforcement has reportedly investigated the incident but no charges have been filed.
The Re-1 board released a statement saying it was “shocked, disheartened and disappointed” by the incident. At the protest hearing, Hamerschlag said that event was “much worse than what [Mc- Daniel] is being accused of in this recall process.”
“If this recall is allowed to go forward, it will send a message to the community that bullying is tolerated and encouraged,” she said.
But also during the hearing, a number of people voiced disapproval of McDaniel.
“He has torn down the integrity of our whole system,” said Lynette Ward, who described herself as “ a parent that is very concerned.”
While the school board has no formal code of ethics, she said, there are codes at the federal and state level. She said Mc- Daniel lacks morals and values, and that she had to explain to her 11-year-old daughter, who no longer follows him on social media, “what hot demon lizard sex is.”
“He is not the type of leader we need,” Ward said.
Sherry Simmons agreed, saying that even one child was too many to be following Mc- Daniel on social media.
Sharlene O’Dell commented that Facebook posts reminds her of diaries. She said McDaniel is “supposed to be a role model. People look at it. “
The reference to demon sex was a joking comment in one of McDaniel’s Facebook posts about a video of a Houston doctor that went viral in July. The doctor, who held a press conference on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court, said masks weren’t necessary to avoid coronavirus because the disease could be cured by hydroxychloroquine. The video was soon pulled from many sites because the medical views were judged bogus and the doctor’s credibility was questioned. It was revealed that she had often claimed that gynecological problems could be caused by people having dream sex with demons.
McDaniel’s joke about demon sex was not the only reference to the Houston doctor that could be seen online locally. A video supporting her views was, in fact, posted for a short time on the home page of Montezuma County’s website.
McHenry, one of the organizers of the recall drive, also spoke against McDaniel. She said she did not force anyone to sign the petition and that some people had called her and asked to sign it.
She also mentioned the controversy related to the naming of a park in Cortez, saying that a veteran had expressed disappointment about McDaniel’s Facebook remark at a meeting of the city council.
McDaniel, commenting on proposed names for a park being created on Cortez’s south side, said he had wanted it to be named South Park. “Damn veterans won again,” he joked, incorrectly thinking that the new park was to be named Veterans Park. That name actually was given to what had been called City Park.
Some people who are not McDaniel’s friends assumed he was seriously angry about veterans being given recognition. “It was meant as a lighthearted comment, it was in no way meant to be disrespectful to veterans,” he was quoted as saying in The Journal.
Looking at people’s Facebook pages generally provides a fairly clear picture of their viewpoints, and prowling social media to see what potentially controversial remarks people are posting is a common pastime.
McDaniel does not appear to express anti-veteran views on Facebook, but his political leanings are openly progressive in nature.
On Oct. 31, 2017, which was prior to his appointment to the school board, he posted in response to a challenge: “I publicly denounce racism, homophobia, bigotry, misogyny, anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim, anti-athiest, Nazis, the so-called alt-right (or whatever name they hide behind today), KKK, and all other forms of hate. Also, I am antifascist & am for freedom of religion or freedom from religion.”
Such views clash with those of many locals, including recall organizer Mindy Nelsen, a conservative who posts numerous comments on Facebook critical of the Cortez and Durango city governments, environmentalists, and liberals — some obviously on the other end of the spectrum from McDaniel’s comments.
For instance, on Aug. 22, she shared a June 21 video of someone with the Right Side Broadcasting Network interviewing a Trump supporter in Oklahoma. The interviewee said that the same people who voted for Obama were “down on Epstein Island raping and eating those babies,” that Bill Gates was “trying to cram his vaccine down my throat and I’m doing just fine without it” and that “Epstein and Weinstein just doesn’t sound like a Presbyterian problem to us.”
“Wow, that’s telling it how it is!” Nelsen posted above the video.
His use of the “antifascist” term brought McDaniel criticism at the Nov. 19 hearing, as critics accused him of being a member of Antifa.
Lori York said Antifa is a terrorist organization, while Curtis Nelson said it is violent. Mary Fuller, however, disagreed. “The Greatest Generation is also Antifa,” Fuller said in reference to the World War II generation that fought the Nazis. She said her own father set foot on Korean soil to fight fascism.
Molly Cooper agreed, saying misinformation had been used by the organizers to obtain signatures. “Antifa is not an organization, it is a group of individuals,” she said. “It is not terrorist, Antifa just means antifascism. One person representing the petition just said it was a terrorist organization. That is incorrect.”
Wikipedia, which of course is not purely objective, says Antifa “is a left-wing anti-fascist political movement in the United States. It is highly decentralized and comprises an array of autonomous groups that aim to achieve their objectives through the use of both nonviolent and violent direct action rather than through policy reform. Antifa political activists are anti-racists who engage in protest tactics, seeking to combat fascists and racists such as neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other far-right extremists.” At the hearing, McDaniel stated, “The petition itself was incorrect. I’m not a member of Antifa, it’s not a terrorist organization.”
McDaniel also said he has no control over who follows him on Facebook. “If your 11-year-old daughter is following me, I’d say that is more an issue for you than me,” he said.
“The statement that I am followed by many students is totally incorrect. There are four members from one family that is close to me, one daughter of a close friend, and one other one I don’t know. That statement is completely and totally incorrect.”
McDaniel’s critics have called on him to resign in order to save the school district the cost of the election, which could be as much as $40,000 for printing and mailing ballots, hiring election judges, and so on.
“Step down and spare the school system from unnecessary financial burdens,” said Curtis Nelson at the hearing.
On Oct. 15, in reference to a “write-up” that is no longer visible, Nelsen posted, “Dont forget to chime in on the school board meeting, Oct 20, 7p telling Lance Mc- Daniel to step down saving the school board $40k. If he doesn’t step down, he is proving he is hindering our childern!!!”
However, McDaniel said during the hearing, “I’m not the one that brought the petition forward to spend the money on a recall election, that was the petitioners.” The hearing concluded with more comments from people supporting McDaniel.
Cortez Mayor Mike Lavey said he has “exemplary character” and that the social-media comments were read out of context.
Megg Heath, who served on the Dolores Re-4 school board for about four years, said, “Lance’s conduct on the school board is beyond reproach. . . He is a fine citizen of this community. . . Just having different opinions from a school-board member is no reason to recall him.”
Hillary McMahan said that the “cherrypicking of Lance’s comments really amounts to bullying. This is absolutely frivolous, especially coming from people some of whom I know have made vague lynching threats on other officials.”
Sean Gantt, who is on the board of Southwest Open School, said, “I know from experience it is difficult to recruit good, qualified people to serve.”
Gantt called the recall “baseless – a waste of everyone’s time and energy. I have seen Lance to be nothing but respectful and supportive in our community. These kinds of politically motivated attacks on people who step up to serve in unpaid positions is really disheartening and kind of disgraceful.”
Choosing a successor
Late on Nov. 23, Green issued a ruling denying the protests. He said that state statute does not provide for an investigation into the legitimacy of the reasons for a recall.
“The hearing officer can find no requirements in the statutes or case law that the Clerk and Recorder conduct an investigation into the truth or accuracy of a recall petition general statement of grounds for recall,” he wrote. “The reasons for recall do not require the accuracy nor exactness of, say, an impeachment or dismissal for cause.”
He also wrote, “Recalls are a political process, they do not require the precision of an impeachment.”
The recall organizers must come up with a successor to take McDaniel’s place if he is recalled. They have to circulate a petition for that candidate and present the petition by Jan. 8 to the county clerk’s office for the signatures to be validated. If the signatures are sufficient, recall ballots will be mailed out by Feb. 1 to residents in the Re-1 school district.
McDaniel’s regular term would be up in the fall of 2021.
Recall petition’s statement
This is the text submitted to the Montezuma County clerk’s office giving the reasons organizers are seeking Lance McDaniel to be recalled from the Re-1 school board.
General statement of grounds for recall:
Lance McDaniel serves on the board of the RE-1 School District. During his time on
the school board, he has shown a lack of leadership and has proven to be a poor role
model for our children. Many of the school children in our community follow him on
social media. He posts his personal opinions, likes, and dislikes. We need school board
members that understand leadership and the power of mentoring, and know not to
voice their personal, political, or social opinions that could influence children. Recently,
he insulted the veterans of Montezuma County. When City Park was renamed “Veterans
Park”, he stated “The Damn veterans won again!” but our community chose to rename
City Park to Veterans Park after two of our local men gave their lives in service to our
country. Later, during the mob protests and horrific destruction following the tragic
death of George Floyd, Mr. McDaniel posted on his Facebook page, “I’m Antifa!” This
is inappropriate behavior for a person with influence over our children. He also celebrates
local vandalism by posting photos of the downtown chalking and painting. Our
children deserve positive leadership. McDaniel’s comments, behavior, and lack of accountability cannot be tolerated.